“Mental toughness” is a phrase that is commonly used in all sports to describe the superior mental qualities of the competitor. Most elite athletes report that at least 50% of superior athletic performance is the result of mental or psychological factors, and a whopping 85% of coaches rate mental toughness as the most important set of psychological characteristics for determining competitive success.

Below are 8 keys to mental toughness in tennis

1. Unshakeable self-belief in your ability to achieve competition goals
Mental toughness is about your self belief and not being shaken from your path. It is having the ability in both physical and mental self belief to produce the goods. It is about a players ability to bounce back from performance set-backs because of their unwavering determination to succeed. It is true that you cannot win them all, truthfully most players will end their professional careers with more losses than wins. To be the ultimate competitor, self belief is essential.

2. Increased determination to succeed

We all have set-backs, the mentally tough performer doesn’t let them affect her, she uses them to her advantage. Determination comes from many difference sources as all players are different. Even though there are external motivations that contribute to a players level of determination such as money, fame or pleasing loved ones, the most important place determination comes from is that place within an athlete.

3. Insatiable desire and self motivation to succeed.

You really have to want it, but you’ve also got to want to do it for yourself. Once you start doing it for anyone else then you’re in trouble. You’ve also got to really understand the reason why you’re in it. Players must remaining fully focused on the task at hand while they are in it. You might have heard of the term being in the “now.” This simply means to be present minded. Thoughts of the past or the future do not exist, it is ones ability to think solely about the present moment thus creating mindfulness.

4. The face of competition-specific distractions.

There are always going to be inevitable distractions but you have to be able to focus on the task at hand. You have to be able to switch back into control mode. These distractions include, ranking points, not liking the opponent due to personal circumstances, the opponents game style really irritates you, the court speed may be too fast or too slow for your liking, the crowd can be too loud or against you in a foreign country or you might just feel a little off when you wake up the morning of your match. There will always be competition specific distractions that could knock players off course, but champions have the ability to acknowledge the things that are out of there control and let them go. Instead they choose to focus their attention on what they are able to control such as effort, attitude and state of mind.

5.Pushing back the boundaries of physical emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress during training and competition

You have to deal with the physical pain from fatigue, dehydration, and tiredness. During a match you are depleting your body of so many different things. It is a question of pushing yourself. Sometime players don’t realize how much energy they have left in the tank, by pushing those physical boundaries they discover that they are stronger than they ever believed possible. Often players go into “I can’t” or “its too hard” mode, tell themselves things like “I’m too tired to move my feet anymore,” and things start to fall apart. Players should always be as physically prepared as possible to withstand the gruelling battles that they will face during their careers. At times, matches become the survival of the fittest. A player that knows they have a physical edge over their opponent, will have the mental edge in long 3 set matches.

Please remember to always pay attention to your body, it will tell you if you cannot push it any harder. If you experience signs such as dizziness, shortness of breath, blurred vision or cramping you need to seek medical attention immediately, as these are symptoms you CANNOT push through.

6. Remaining fully focused in the face of personal life distractions.

Once you’re in the competition, you cannot let your mind wander to other things. It doesn’t matter what has happened to you, you cannot bring the problem onto the court. The past must remain in the past and when you get to the future you can deal with it at that time. It is not an easy practice and it is one that takes many years to master, but being able to do this can be critical in order to leave off court concerns on the sidelines.

7. Accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable.

Its a fact, everybody gets nervous before their matches. The good news is its normal and knowing that you can help you cope with it. A great way for players to deal with the anxiety is by accepting that they are going to get nervous, particularly when the pressure’s on. I is very important for them to manage their emotions. This is why routines are critical, they help you stay in the moment and eliminate distractions. Breath work is something that is used by all of the top players, something just as simple as in one, two, three out one, two, three.
Players often repeating these very simple breaths 3 times in a row. This can help you center yourself and slow you heart rate, which is almost certainly racing during times of anxiety.

8. Thriving on the pressure of competition.

If you are going to achieve anything worthwhile in life, there is bound to be pressure. Mental toughness is being resilient and using the competition pressure to get the best out of yourself. One of the most important attributes of a champion tennis player is loving the competition. In order to be a great competitor a player must thrive under the pressure of competition, but what exactly does that mean? First of all to be a successful tennis player it helps to really love the sport. Does that mean you have to, absolutely not, there are many players who come out and say they didn’t actually like playing, at the end of their careers. That being said, you will find that most players love the game and it is that love that inspires them to want to get better every day and more than anything else they fall in love with the battle. They thrive on putting themselves on the line and testing their skills against the rest of the world. To play well under pressure there is one critical component to competing, you cannot hope the opponent give you the match essentially forcing you to play “not to lose.” Always remember that champions play to win, they get out there and try to win every single point that they can!

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